How to Fight a DUI in Pennsylvania
Fighting a DUI in Allegheny County and elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires very specific knowledge, training and experience. A defense attorney should be able to demonstrate with confidence that she/he knows how to beat a DUI based on past cases and experience in drunk driving defenses, which include:
- Probable Cause Defenses
- Field Sobriety Defenses
- Blood Test Defenses
- Breathalyzer Defenses
- Unlawful Stop Defense and
- Suppression of Evidence
DUI Defense Strategies in PA
Probable Cause means that police have sufficient grounds to suspect operation of, or control over a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol before arresting you and requiring chemical testing. Unfortunately, police are not required under PA law to tell you that you have the right to refuse, without consequence, all field sobriety tests, including the portable (roadside) breath test (PBT). These tests are used to develop probable cause for a DUI arrest.
If police did not develop sufficient grounds to arrest you for a DUI, then your attorney can ask the court to have all subsequent chemical tests after your arrest suppressed from evidence.
An Unlawful Stop by law enforcement happens when police have no reason allowed by law to stop you for investigation. Under the Vehicle Code, an officer can stop a vehicle and pursue further investigation (such as for DUI) if a violation of the Vehicle Code has occurred, or is reasonably suspected.
If the defense can show that no violation existed, or that there was no reason to suspect one, charges may be dismissed. Police also need to have proper jurisdiction over you in order to make a lawful stop. There are many other defenses to a DUI charge.
The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests that can be used to obtain probable cause for arrest officially recognized under Pennsylvania law are: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the Walk-and-Turn test, and the One-Leg Stand test. If any other tests were used to develop probable cause for your arrest, then your criminal defense attorney may be able to have the chemical test results suppressed. Even if you submitted to the standard field tests, there can be a number of errors argued in order to suppress blood alcohol content (BAC) evidence or breath test evidence.
Blood testing for BAC determination is subject to numerous flaws. If blood testing machines are not maintained and calibrated properly, errors occur that can result in significantly higher BAC rates for the samples tested. For example, a recent Pennsylvania court ruling determined that a crimes lab used improper procedures for blood sample testing that compromised all samples tested for DUI cases. The case demonstrated that blood testing labs may not use the amount of blood required under the law for proper BAC testing. There are many things that can be challenged in a blood test DUI case. The police, health care workers and all lab personnel have to follow the proper procedure to collect and test your blood and there are many opportunities for mistakes. Only a highly trained DUI attorney can identify these mistakes and use them to your advantage to fight your DUI.
Further, your blood test may be shown legally insufficient if the lab used enzyme tracers instead of gas chromatography methods. In addition, if you requested separate blood samples so your BAC could be independently tested, and police refused that request or your request was unmet, your defense attorney may move to have the BAC results from the county suppressed from evidence.
A Breathalyzer Defense can be effectively used in 2 common situations. If you were pulled over by police and asked to take a preliminary breath test –or PBT, then you were handed a portable device that is often used in field sobriety testing. This portable device is not always accurate or properly used by law enforcement. If your PBT results were the basis for your DUI probable cause and arrest, then your defense may lie in discrediting the PBT.
Also, if you submitted to a Breath Test administered at the station that used a much larger breath testing machine, then you may have several defense options to challenge your BAC results. For example, the manufacturer of the most widely used breathalyzers in PA has recently been discredited by a Dauphin County Judge. The Judge cited lack of calibrations and independently certified sample solutions during manufacture as key reasons that the breath machine results may be faulty.
Moreover, experienced DUI forensics experts have argued that statistical sampling from any breathalyzer device lacks clear and indisputable results. For example, newer models take ‘samples’ from your deep lung airways. Yet, if the machine was not properly maintained and calibrated, then a common “mouth-alcohol” sample can occur. Numerous elements can wrongly elevate the machine’s readout in these instances, such as antiseptics (mouth washes & breath fresheners), energy drinks, even bread. You may also have a defense if you suffer from Acid Reflux Disease.
Driver’s License Suspension from PennDOT
In Pennsylvania, most DUIs will be graded as a misdemeanor and will carry stiff penalties that include the suspension of your driving privileges upon conviction. How long your suspension lasts will depend on your driving record, whether you have any prior DUI convictions, and how high your BAC was found to be by police. For example, a first offender found to have from a .10 to .159 BAC will have their license suspended for 1 year after a guilty plea or finding. You may be able to get an Occupational Limited License –or OLL, from the DOT so that you can still drive to and from your job. Specific conditions and timeframes apply, and you should contact a qualified DUI attorney for more information on obtaining one as soon as possible.
If you refused to take a chemical blood alcohol or breath test after arrest, then Pennsylvania law mandates that your driver’s license be automatically suspended for 12 months. This is a civil suspension of your driving privileges which is independent of your DUI case outcome. After refusal, you cannot apply for an OLL. In addition, if you are convicted or plead guilty, you will also be penalized with the criminal suspension associated with your charges. Please visit our Refusal page for more specific information regarding your rights.
The best strategy to avoid any license suspension time is to hire a qualified and experienced DUI attorney to successfully fight your charges. Many counties in Pennsylvania have a program for certain first time offenders called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD. If your attorney gets the DA to accept you into the program, your license suspension will be reduced significantly; anywhere from no suspension to 60 days.
Out -of-State DUI Convictions
DUI offense grading and sentencing takes into account prior convictions for driving under the influence during the penalty phase. Priors for driving while impaired from other states will also be counted by the Commonwealth. If you have a prior DUI or DWI in another state, it is still possible that your initial offense sheet from the arresting officer in Pittsburgh, Johnstown, or other town, lists the current DUI as a “first offense“.
However, under the Interstate Driver’s License Compact, most states share driving violations with each other through a database in order to elevate penalties for the accused in the home state. Pennsylvania will look back 10 years for any relatable priors. By or before the time your case reaches the penalty stage, the prosecution may be aware of the prior conviction from the other state.
This is not to advise that a DUI suspect share their priors with officers at any time. You are under no obligation to do so, and should only tell your defense attorney about your prior in-state or out-of-state DUI/DWI convictions or charges so that she can properly plan and prepare your defense strategies.
What You Can Do
Write down everything that happened as soon as possible. Note the arresting officers’ names and station. Write down the names and addresses of all witnesses; including any other passengers. Recall all the field tests you took, and whether anything seemed off to you about these experiences. You will need to recall and write down everything you had to eat and drink within at least 12 hours of your arrest. Write down any medication taken in the 24 hours before the DUI, whether prescription or over the counter.
Where were you? What time was it when you were first stopped and investigated? What was said between you and the officer(s)? What chemical test(s), if any, did you submit to, and where was it administered? What time was the BAC test given to you? Who was the test administered by, and what exactly did that person do during the procedure?
Details like how many times you were asked to blow into the breathalyzer, whether you were constantly monitored by the test-giver; or what kind of swab was used prior to the blood draw (alcohol, iodine, etc.) may be helpful to your defense. If you submitted to a urine test, was your bladder properly emptied beforehand? Was a breathalyzer used, and if so, what did it look like?
Finally, bring all of your notes to an experienced and well-qualified DUI defense attorney IMMEDIATELY. Regardless of what police may have told you, the single most important step you can take to fight against any DUI is to work with a criminal defense attorney who is specifically trained to help you. If you are facing DUI charges in Allegheny County, Cambria County, Blair County, Indiana County or any of the communities we serve, please contact us today for a free initial consultation.